I'm not a fan of westerns. Actually that's a little unfair, because I'm not sure I've ever seen one in it's entirity until now. I read somewhere that Star Wars - which taken as a whole and nothwithstanding the disaster that is The Phantom Menace - is my favourite film of all time, is a space western. Well, that's as maybe but having never seen anything more cowboy-related than the Dallas cheerleaders, I wouldn't know so I'm sticking to my story. I've never seen a real western, until now.
Indisputably, no amount of gunslinging, shot-swigging or large moustaches has ever convinced me to sit through anything starring John Wayne before, so it might be considered odd that I took an interest in the remake of his 1969 classic True Grit.
Until that is you consider that this particular remake is the work of the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. I am a fan of the Coen brothers. The Big Lebowski remains one of the best films I have ever seen, and my appreciation of more recent efforts like No Country For Old Men and Burn After Reading made this a must-see. In addition, I'd been promised that this was a story much closer to that in the original novel than the one played out in Wayne's movie. No, I haven't read the book either but everyone knows that books are better than films, right?
Like Lebowski, True Grit stars Jeff Bridges. Here he plays Rooster Cogburn, a washed up old Marshall who somehow finds himself on a mission to avenge the death of a young girl's father. He engages in this potentially deadly pursuit despite being drunk, unconscious or both regularly throughout. His inoxication, added to his Texan drawl make him rather difficult to understand at times but that's ok because he has help in moving the plot along.
At just 14 years of age Hailee Steinfeld produces a stunning performance as the recently bereaved Mattie Ross. She weighs in with a bit of narration too. Her Oscar-worthy efforts are certainly helped by a snappy and witty script, less quirky than Coen brothers fans may be used to but no less entertaining for that. Yet this should not detract from Steinfeld's excellent endeavours, stealing almost every scene from the acting powerhouse that is Bridges, himself delivering another sterling effort as Cogburn. Academy gongs are handed out just hours after the time of writing, and fingers are firmly crossed for both. Bridges is up for Best Actor, while if there is a better candidate for Supporting Actress than Steinfeld then her's is a performance I need to see.
In support are Matt Damon as rival Chaney-chaser Laboeuf and Josh Brolin in the all too brief but wonderfully dastardly role of Chaney. Damon's Laboeuf keeps you guessing from first sight to last, and is in posession of a moustache that is as impressive as anything else his character manages to contribute. Brolin is criminally under-used but as such retains an air of mystery which adds to the intrigue. This might slightly irk those who need a little more screen time in order to truly invest their hatred in a character, but for this viewer it was enough to know what he had done. I couldn't help but get dragged along by Bridges and Steinfeld in any case.
At bug-bear time I do wish the film would have ended a little sooner than it did. The ending seems somehow tacked on, with some unecessary sadness thrown in for what was obviously a stab at prolonging the drama. If it ain't broke though, cowboy. Or something.